Typhoon destroys quarter of Philippine banana crop

The Philippines, the world's third largest exporter of bananas, lost a quarter of its crop in Typhoon Bopha, an industry group said Thursday, adding that it has also likely spread a destructive pest.

The Philippine Banana Growers and Exporters Association said the deadly storm, which has so far killed 477 people, would also cost the industry $318 million.

Executive director Stephen Antig said Bopha destroyed 10,000 hectares (24,700 acres) of the country's 42,000 hectares of banana farms.

Agriculture Secretary Proceso Alcala confirmed that bananas were among the farm sector segments that were hit hard by Bopha, though he gave no specific figures.

"I would say the banana industry sustained the worst damage," he said.

Farmers in Compostela Valley and Bukidnon provinces who grow bananas under contract from big exporters are in danger of not being able to deliver, and the government is thinking of ways to fill the gap, he told ABS-CBN television.

"We're concerned the market could go to Ecuador. If that happens we would have a hard time getting it back," Alcala said, referring to the world's top banana exporter and Philippine rival.

The government is in discussions with the industry on how best to help it, he added.

Alcala's aides later told AFP the minister was unavailable for comment.

The hurricane-force winds and flash floods flattened wide swathes of the hillsides of Davao Oriental province and Compostela Valley, the centre of the industry, Antig said.

And apart from the visible damage, Antig said there were fears that the floods might have spread Panama Disease, which prevents the banana plant from bearing any fruit before eventually killing it.

The bug then renders the affected areas unsuitable for replanting.

About 150,000 people depend on the banana industry in Compostela Valley alone.

The Philippines likely lost eight billion pesos ($196 million) in ruined harvests and damaged facilities in the storm, Antig said, while rehabilitating farms would take several months and likely cost another five billion pesos.

It would then take nine months after the replanting to reap the next harvest.

The state census office said the Philippines shipped $471 million worth of the fruit last year -- accounting for one percent of total exports.

Bopha is the latest blow to the Philippines' banana industry, which was embroiled in a row this year with major market China over alleged pests on shipments that left tonnes of the fruit to rot at Chinese ports.

The two governments later held talks to resolve the issue.

Antig said the industry was also hit by the international foreign exchange embargo on Iran, and an attack of Panama Disease on some plantations.

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